The Text Connections We Need to Be Making by Liz Garden
I remember when I was in first grade; I spent more time in the school library than I did in my classroom. It’s true. My teacher, Mr. Page, would send me to read in the library because I didn’t fit into the blue, red, or green reading group. And so I spent my days devouring books, curled up in a corner of the library, while the rest of my class slowly moved through the boring, leveled readers that were mostly only good at sucking the life out of books and reading.
Fast forward twenty years, and I remember as a second grade teacher, making sure to have a classroom library in my room that had books of every level and interest. Students weren’t sent out of my room to read by themselves in the school library. Instead they were given time to devour books and hopefully develop a love of reading. I let them read what interested them, and if I didn’t have books that matched their interest, then I went and found more books. I encouraged discussion about the characters, I taught them to infer, I conferred with them, and I made sure my students were making texts connections.
Fast forward another ten years, to today, when I went into two different second grade classrooms to read the book I Am Peace: A Book of Mindfulness and practice breathing and meditation. I can’t help but think about what a different world we are living in. When I was spending my days as a seven year old in the school library, I was also living in a time when I could walk home for lunch and then walk back to school by myself…as a first grader! After school, we played outside until it was dark. I remember having tornado drills, but we had certainly never heard of lockdown drills. I don’t remember friends being in therapy and friends being medicated for anxiety. I don’t remember worrying that an intruder with a gun might come into my school. It was a different world back then.
While I am glad that the way we teach literacy has changed from when I was a first grader, I am sad that so much else has changed for our young readers. Our students have to deal with the outside world while trying to learn to read. Today’s first graders are experiencing stress, anxiety, and violence in the world, along with loosing a tooth, choosing friends on the playground, and collecting Pokemon cards. Growing up has suddenly become so much harder.
I think about how we used to want students to make connections to texts. We wanted them to figure out a way to make a personal connection to the text in order to better understand what they were reading. I know we still encourage students to figure out how they can connect to the book. However, considering everything going on in the world right now, I think we need to be making some different kinds of text connections. I don’t think we should be having students making connections to texts. I think we need to be making the connections. We need to connect texts to our students. Our kids have so much going on around them; let’s use books to help them navigate this crazy life we are all experiencing.
Just the other day, I was giving someone a tour of our school and as we stopped to admire the school library, the person asked me my thoughts on keeping actual books versus moving to devices and online reading. In my head, I was screaming at the person that I would never get rid of books! But what came out of my mouth was much more calm. We need books. Our kids need books. We need books in our school libraries and in our classrooms. We need to be connecting kids to books.
There are so many amazing picture books and chapter books being written every day. We need to get these books into the hands of our students. Whether it’s a book about kindness, such as We’re All Wonders by RJ Palacio or a book about loss, such as The Memory String by Eve Bunting. Whether it’s a book about taking risks, such as The Girl Who Never Made Mistakes by Mark Pett or a book about friendship, such as Enemy Pie by Derek Munson. Whether it’s a tough, but relevant read like The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas or Katherine Applegate’s new book, Wishtree that takes on the topic of anti-Muslim bigotry. Our kids need all kinds of books. And we need to be the ones to connect them to those books. More than ever before, our kids are learning to read while also learning to live in this crazy, mixed up world. We might not feel like we can change what is happening in the world around us, but we are fortunate that we get to help mold future minds. And those future minds, they will be the ones to change our world. Go connect a child to a book today.
Liz Garden is the principal of the Florence Roche Elementary School in Groton, MA. She has been an administrator for nine years and taught at various levels for eleven years. She blogs regularly for her staff at www.floromondaymorningmusings.blogspot.com as well as for a group she helped form, www.momsasprincipals.wordpress.com. Liz has presented about her love of reading at the MA Reading Association conference and the NAESP Conference. When she is not molding future minds as an instructional leader, she is dealing with her reading addiction, keeping Amazon in business, listening to her musician husband sing, and chasing around her toddler, Emerson! You can connect with Liz on Twitter @PrincipalGarden and on Voxer @PrincipalGarden.